Persons and Professional Identity

Of course one may say that this is all beside the point: what we are concerned with is professional practice. Moreover, if Marlynn Wei is correct when she claims that the reasons for the failure of the professional to apologize and therefore seek forgiveness from the wronged client are inherent in the norms of the profession, there are broader issues to consider beyond the personal recognition of individual wrongdoing: there is the culpability of the profession. Certainly we can see much of this in the attitudes of the public as expressed in opinion polls. We have apparently lost confidence in the police, politicians, lawyers, bankers, journalists, the military, teachers, and even the clergy. One can see why.

But that surely is the point: we have undermined the possibility of genuine professional relationships by disassociating them from personal morality. Such a separation is a cancer in the body politic: human well-being is not satisfied by compliance. Our consciences remind us, and we can be truly grateful. The recovery of trust in the professions depends on the rebuilding of confidence in the persons who become the professionals. Personal morality and public behavior are indissolubly bound together. I am a person before I am a member of a profession: I am a person who practices a profession. I can resign my professional role, but I can never resign my personhood.

Chappell is clear about the status of personhood. It is not the result of identifying criteria that we then apply to the creatures in front of us to see whether they are persons. The term applies only to human beings, not to seaweed or crocodiles. We treat a creature as a person in advance of determining sentience, rationality, self-awareness, and the rest of the personal properties. Thus, “a parent’s attitude towards her child is always, basically, what Wittgenstein famously calls ‘an attitude towards the soul.’ (In other words, it is intrinsically second- personal.)” (Chappell, 2014, pp. 137-38). Indeed I think of myself first as a person responsible for myself and for all that I do before I think of myself as a teacher or a manager. Since I am a person, nothing can remove from me my responsibility for who I am, my character, or therefore what I choose to do, hence my need to know that I live in a world where I am forgiven, for which I can be truly grateful.

 
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